A friend sent me a lapel button she made to sum up the year: "F**k 2016." Man, the past 12 months were brutal in so many ways for so many people. The presidential election, all the celebrities and great people who passed, the wild weather events around the world and the Olympics in Rio are among the obvious reasons. What I'm not going to forget is the Dec. 2 fire that destroyed Oakland's Ghost Ship—a warehouse that had been converted to an underground artist collective.
Every year in late September, my wife and I head to San Francisco to connect with our chosen family for a weekend of food and frolic. For several years we've been staying in the Castro at an Airbnb, a triplex owned by two wonderful men who live just down the street from their rental property. Some of our family members are minimum-wage earners, others are on salary, and it's expensive for all of us to stay in a hotel together. Additionally, we each have dietary requirements that can't be fulfilled by a hotel coffee shop.
This past fall, our reservation got mixed up by our landlords and we had to find different accommodations. My wife, a former travel agent, got on the web and found a fantastic warehouse to rent in the Mission District, owned by Burners. The photos were phenomenal, with fabulous art hanging from the high ceilings and furniture from all over the world. Nothing compared. The community shower doubled as a greenhouse for indoor plants, and there was a hot tub on the roof and enough room for my wife to spin fire while our friends smoked cigars and drank brown liquor.
Downstairs there was a small restaurant space closed for construction, a commercial kitchen used only at night by bakers, a large room with an AirStream trailer as a private bedroom, a community kitchen with a table that easily sat 16, and random storage for more art—mostly metal sculptures-in-progress hanging from the ceiling. The place looked almost identical to the photos/videos we saw of the Ghost Ship before the fire, and it was in the same condition.
Have you been to the Mission District lately? For miles, the sidewalks are covered in tents—the homes of people who can't afford housing the city. People like us who use Airbnb keep rentals off the market, while grocery-baggers and baristas live on the street outside. I'm part of the problem, for sure. And I know the place where we stayed was not up to code. Just like the 36 people who lost their lives in the Ghost Ship fire because they couldn't afford legal, up-to-code housing in Oakland, we, too, put ourselves at risk. Those warehouses are also here in Salt Lake City. Our housing crisis is just as real.